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Report finds that investing in cancer research boosts economy and health


Each pound invested in cancer research generates a continuous stream of benefits equal to earning 40 pence a year thereafter, according to a report led by researchers from Brunel, Kings College London and RAND Europe.

The report, entitled 'Estimating the returns to the UK publicly funded cancer-related research in terms of the net value of improved health outcomes', was commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, Cancer Research UK, the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust. Published in BMC Medicine today (Monday), it is the first ever estimate of the economic gains from investment in publicly-funded UK cancer research.

Some of the greatest economic benefit was from efforts to reduce smoking rates, investment in breast cancer treatments, such as tamoxifen, and the cervical screening programme.

The study looked at the economic returns from cancer research in the UK between 1970 and 2009.

It involved developing a cutting-edge 'bottom up' approach to estimating the 'net monetary benefit' from investing in medical research (the health benefit valued in monetary terms, minus the cost of delivering that benefit) and also the 'time lag' between investment (research funding) and return (health gain) associated with an expertly chosen subset of interventions.

This builds on an earlier study looking at investment in heart disease and mental health research, which reported similar results. Together these areas represent 45 per cent of the UK disease burden, suggesting that this level of return can be applied to UK investment in biomedical research as a whole.

The study is being launched today at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Medical Research's Summer Reception where Universities and Science Minister Rt Hon David Willetts MP and leading figures from the medical research community will highlight the health and economic returns that have been delivered by Government and charitable investment into medical research.

Brunel's Matthew Glover, Research Assistant for HERG, said:

"This study builds on methods developed at HERG and first used to estimate the returns from cardiovascular research in 2008. Applying the methods to cancer research strengthens our argument that a bottom-up approach represents a significant improvement in estimating economic returns, in terms of the net value of the health gains, from medical research.

"Our findings suggest that despite uncertainties, the historical economic returns were substantial and would justify the public and charitable investment made in cancer research.  However, it is important to note that past performance is not an indicator of future performance, and given the observed increase in cancer research investment over the last two decades, greater net health gains would be needed to see similar returns."

Jeremy Hunt, Health Minister, said: "Innovation is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures that can make a difference to patients, and this report is more evidence that investing in UK medical research has wider economic benefits.

"The UK life sciences sector is one of the strongest and most productive in the world, and is a valued partner in the Government's plans for a strong economy and an NHS that is equipped for future challenges."

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "When we invest in medical research, we win twice over: we make discoveries that lead to better health, while also generating wealth. This study shows that every pound of investment in research generates benefits equal to 40p each year thereafter, confirming that the research ecosystem in the UK – which includes government, charities and industry - is one of the most important contributors to the economy. A long term, stable commitment to research is needed to ensure advances in the nation's future health, and its economic prosperity."

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This study highlights the significant returns that have been realised as a result of the huge generosity of the British public, who in the last 40 years have contributed an astounding £15 billion to cancer research through their taxes and charitable donations."

To view the full report, please visit the BMC Medicine website